The Silent Woman

It is good to wait with silence for the salvation of God (Lam. 3:26).

We’ve considered the Marian character of our present liturgical season in Maria’s Advent. Now I would like to reflect on one particular facet of Mary’s own first Advent — for we would do well to meditate on her virtues and dispositions as she awaits the birth of our Emmanuel. To consider them is to admire them. To admire them is to cultivate holy desires to imitate her. If these desires lead to resolutions and reform of life, then we’ve done the very Catholic thing of growing in holiness.

First, we recall that Mary’s arrival on earth is the proximate preparation for the Savior’s birth. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4). The fiat of the Virgin recorded by St. Luke — “Be it done unto me according to thy word” — is that fullness of time that St. Paul mentions. If, as the Church’s liturgy assures us, Mary is the “dawn” of Christ’s “perfect day,” then her Holy and Immaculate Conception is the first bright ray of that glorious dawn.

Jesus is our Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is with us because He shares our nature, including a human body with bones and muscles, and a human soul with intellect and will. All this was furnished by the Virgin, whom God perfectly prepared by her Immaculate Conception to be the matrix through which the Word was made flesh. Adam’s body was drawn from the slime of the earth before the curse of Original Sin afflicted all creation; so, too, the New Adam’s body was drawn from the uniquely un-cursed and totally en-graced clay of Mary.

How did this Woman who was herself the “fullness of time” await God’s birth? We may not doubt that she did so as the supremely recollected, silent, and contemplative soul she was. Spiritual writers universally extol the necessity of silence in the pursuit of sanctity. It would be beyond the scope of this Ad Rem to give a florilegium of the spiritual masters on this point. I will content myself with citing Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., “If silence does not reign in our soul, if the voice of excessively human affections troubles it, we cannot of a certainty hear the inspirations of the interior Master.”

Saint Louis de Montfort asserts that silence ever reigned in Mary’s soul when he writes of her “deep humility, which made her prefer seclusion, maintain silence, submit to every eventuality and put herself in the last place.”

If she were not silent and recollected, how could she ponder in her heart the words of the shepherds and of Jesus himself as St. Luke relates in chapter two of his Gospel? How, too, could she react with such reserve and prudence in her conversation with St. Gabriel at the Annunciation?

No doubt, she recalled the lessons she had learned as a little girl in the Temple, when she likely heard such Old Testament passages as these:

  • “In the multitude of words there shall not want sin: but he that refraineth his lips, is most wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)
  • “The words of the wise are heard in silence, more than the cry of a prince among fools.” (Ecclesiastes 9:17)
  • “It is good to wait with silence for the salvation of God.” (Lamentations 3:26)
  • “Be still and see that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 45:11)

In the Classical Roman Rite, the most sacred part of the Mass takes place in total silence. It could be a Pontifical Solemn Mass in a Cathedral with the world’s largest polyphonic choir, but when the celebrant utters the sacrosanct words of consecration, not even the master of ceremonies, the deacon, or the subdeacon should hear them. One should be able to hear a pin drop. That the Incarnate Word descends upon the altar amid this intense and fruitful silence recalls those inspired words the Church applies to the Nativity: “For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy Almighty word leaped down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15, used in the Introit for the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity).

Two apparitions of the Blessed Virgin that I can recall happened in total silence, showing us how much can be communicated in quietude: Ireland’s Our Lady of Knock (also called “Our Lady of Silence”), and the famous apparition to Alphonse Ratisbonne. In the latter case, this unbeliever was suddenly and dramatically converted by the silent Virgin. As Ratisbonne later testified, “She did not speak, but I understood everything.”

One of the great advantages of religious life is that there are prescribed times of silence. Every religious institute worthy of the name, whether strictly monastic, mixed, or active, exhorts its members to silence. If we use these quiet moments well, they are the times that we hear God. While the faithful in the world are not obliged to the same standards, it is a universal law that silence is necessary for the cultivation of an interior life. Our multitude of noisy gadgets have helped modern man to drown out those two voices that are most necessary, if at times they are unpleasant in their demands: the voice of God, and the voice of conscience. The lamentably mercantile nature of our Advent season — with its enervating countdowns of shopping days till Christmas — militates against silence. However, if we want this treasure, we can make it happen, if only in small draughts. Our Lady is eager to help us cultivate her silence.

I would like to bring these thoughts to a conclusion with the following passages on Mary and silence. They need no further commentary.

Mary’s example enables the Church better to appreciate the value of silence. Mary’s silence is not only moderation in speech, but it is especially a wise capacity for remembering and embracing in a single gaze of faith the mystery of the Word made man and the events of his earthly life. It is this silence as acceptance of the Word, this ability to meditate on the mystery of Christ, that Mary passes on to believers. In a noisy world filled with messages of all kinds, her witness enables us to appreciate a spiritually rich silence and fosters a contemplative spirit. (Pope John Paul II, General Audience of November 22, 1995)

[On Holy Communion] But remember, the more you let Mary act in your Communion the more Jesus will be glorified. The more you humble yourself and listen to Jesus and Mary in peace and silence — with no desire to see, taste or feel — then the more freedom you will give to Mary to act in Jesus’ name and the more Jesus will act in Mary. For the just man lives everywhere by faith, but especially in Holy Communion, which is an action of faith. (Saint Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, No. 273)

Our Lady of Silence, pray for us!